14 Elul 5782

The Personal Revolution

To listen to recorded message, click on https://youtu.be/Z2SGSaTCHYU

As I watch the progression of madness upon this planet, I can understand how frantic Moshe was to give his people as much wisdom as he could before leaving them.  Our Creator has given us the principles of the Torah so that we can turn our lives around and do what we are being calling to do. These principles, given over 4000 years ago, have stood the test of time. They teach us personal responsibility and respect for our neighbor, for our fellow man, and especially for women. We see that clearly in Parashat Ki Tetze. Because we have been made in the likeness and image of the Creator, having His characteristics within us, we are far more than simple physical beings; we can also connect with the spiritual realm allowing for deep inner growth and metaphysical transformation.  I call this “The Personal Revolution”. 

Our Creator gave us the ability to think, to act and to respond, but that means that we must behave learn responsibility. He also provided us with a most important ability — “self-restraint”, which we need to exercise in order to live successfully within any community especially when tempted or provoked. Rav Shaul, known in the Christian world as the apostle Paul, told us that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.  

The Torah does not always spell out these principles but instead paints a picture for us. This is very typical of Hebrew thinking. For example, Devarim (Deut.) 21:10 describes how the soldier at war needed to treat a beautiful woman to whom he was attracted and had taken captive. After he brought her home, her head was shaved and her nails dealt with, he had to wait a month, and he could marry her, if he still felt the same way about her. If not, he could not abuse her nor sell her, rather he had to let her go back to her family. The soldier had to exercise self-restraint in order to find the true beauty within the woman he had taken to his home. No other army in the world has been given these instructions. In direct contrast. today we see men and armies who are taught to abuse women in the vilest of ways according to the teachings of their religion. We remember how the Russian “liberators” raped the women after they had driven out the Nazis at the end of WW2. What kind of values were they taught? Even today, young girls are bought and sold into prostitution because the principles and values of the Torah are not being taught and upheld.  

The Torah raised women to be of equal value to men and offered protection to those who were considered of less value than even cattle. The widow and the divorcee had to be taken care of and provided for. A man couldn’t simply divorce his wife because he was unhappy with her. The Torah provided a system of justice not only for those times. 

The regulations for money lending for the Israelite and the foreigner, the regulations for wearing fibres of equal substance, to prevent one from destroying the other, the rules against the unequal yoking together of the ox and donkey as one was stronger than the other, as well as having compassion for the mother bird in regard to her eggs, were all related to those who lived within the community of Israel. If we can learn to care for the least of God’s creatures, how much more can we have compassion for our fellow man. Our Creator is warning us to not become cold-blooded killers but to have respect and reverence for others and this begins with animals. Sadly, today there are people in this world who have become barbarians, no longer caring about who or how they murder. They don’t even care about their own lives which eventually leads to the destruction of humanity. At the beginning of Genesis, Cain was questioned by the Creator “Where is your brother?” and he responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” That was a rhetorical question, with the answer being – yes, we are each our brother’s keepers. The Torah teaches that we are responsible for one another. 

Moshe tells us to remember the Amalekites who attacked us from the rear wanting to destroy us, for no good reason; this is called Sinat Chinam – free hatred. What do the Amalekites represent – a barbaric people having no conscience. This is what we are seeing in the Middle East today – pure Sinat Chinam toward Israel and their enemies, even toward their own people. The Amalekites represent a people who care for no one and destroy merely for the sake of destruction. They do not build anything for the good of their communities; they only tear down. Our Creator is telling us that these people do not deserve to live within our society, or they will destroy us if we do not stop them.   When King Saul was told by the prophet Samuel to kill all the Amalekites, including women, children and even the cattle, he disobeyed; he thought that he was more “humane” than God. However, 500 years later, in ancient Persia, the Jews were faced with extinction under the wicked ruler Haman, who was an Amalekite. Today Israel is facing the same enemy – Iran which was ancient Persia. Our Creator is against Sinat Chinam – free hatred. He teaches us that we are not to hate anyone, rather we need to help others, to be a light to the nations. We do, however have the right to defend ourselves from those who want to destroy us.  

Our Torah teaches us the principle that our life is sacred, and that no one has the right to take it away. Most religions are unwittingly teaching a doctrine that opposes the idea of “self-restraint” as well as “responsibility” when they teach that if a person commits a sin or does something wrong, someone or something else will pay for it. This does not develop personal responsibility. They teach that an animal sacrifice or that another person has the ability to take away your sin, so you don’t need to worry; or by an action, a good deed or by payment, you can have your sins removed. They also teach that we cannot pay for our sins and that we need someone else to do it. This is passing the buck. Deut. 24:16 clearly says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.”  Religions have removed responsibility for our own actions which comes with having free will. 

As we approach the High Holidays, we are being called to make Teshuva, to return to the Creator and to make things right with our fellow man.  It is insufficient to simply “say” that we are sorry; we need to search within ourselves for what we have done wrong, and then to acknowledge it to God, to ourselves, and to the one we have wronged, and finally to do what it takes to make it right. Only then can the Sha’ar Hashamayim – the Gates of Heaven open to us. It there then that we see a metaphysical transformation happen within us. I call this “The Personal Revolution”.

Shabbat Shalom 

From Ranebi message in 5777